How do extracurricular and volunteering expectations differ for non-trad applicants? How are you all going about ECs and volunteering?

Ihave Nonamè

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Dec 9, 2017
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I'm an older student (nearing 29) entering senior year of undergrad. I worked in a restaurant for several years while at a CC. Prior, I worked in a gym as a trainer. I did not volunteer or participate in extracurriculars in that time. I joined a lab this last school year but Covid19 shut it all down. I had barely been with them for a month.

So I'm trying to plan for the following school year. There are a few (paid) patient transport positions available in my area that require 20-24 hours/week. I was hoping for something around 10hrs but am having no luck. I see that clinical/patient experience is a priority and 20 hrs/wk would at least allow me to catch up in that regard...

But I'm also eager to get back into a lab in the fall, and I am interested in tutoring/TAing for Physiology in Winter (necessary to get to know LOR writers). Some say I need non-clinical volunteering and some say shadowing is necessary as the requirement is not met by the clinical work....And clubs are a last priority I understand but in light of recent times have considered sitting in on Black Student Union meetings. It's certainly a lot.

Is there an understanding that an older student might not have the same ECs/volunteering or are the expectations the same as they are for the typical applicant?

Would all of this that I've listed be too much to take on? I'm worried that doing a lot in the year before applying will look like it was just to mark off a checklist. But I knew before transferring here that I wanted research experience (this school is known for its research and this had me excited to attend). I know no other way to get close enough to professors here than to TA for them. I would love to tutor URM kids (as there aren't fellow brown skinned students in my classes now) or to volunteer in geriatrics (perhaps not possible with coronavirus).

Fortunately, my class load this last year won't need to be too heavy but I still want to ensure that my GPA is high. I'm presently studying for the MCAT so I'm afraid to take on too much these next three months... but I suppose I have no other choice but to apply for something right now...
 

GreenDuck12

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Mar 30, 2014
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Is there an understanding that an older student might not have the same ECs/volunteering or are the expectations the same as they are for the typical applicant?

There is some leeway but not as much as you might expect. An older student that is simultaneously raising a family, working full/part time, taking night classes, might get away will have fewer hours shadowing or volunteering due to time constraints. However, they are still expected to have spent enough time to understand what they are getting into and to be able to articulate what they have learned from those experiences. I see "typical" premeds on here post about 500+ clinical hours or 1000+ research hours. This certainly isn't necessary. But simply being 29 does not automatically lend itself to getting leeway as your circumstances might not reflect the need for it. I would focus less on the hour total and more on what you are able to glean from the experiences that you take on.

It looks like you're trying to get a lot done in one year. Personally, I enjoyed my patient transport experience and found it very eye opening to the workings of the hospital. But 20 hours a week is a lot. Shadowing is necessary and some schools require a minimum of 50 hours. Service to others is certainly recommended, as is community and campus engagement.

You're definitely going to have to prioritize the experiences you seek out as you have a lot of opportunities.
 

Meowidith_Grey

MD c/o 2024
5+ Year Member
Sep 17, 2014
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I’m 28, but I definitely still tried to “check” all of those expected requirements. I know some schools place high emphasize on service to others, so I really think that it could be beneficial to engage in meaningful non clinical volunteering. I Would suggest working with soup kitchens, mobile shower organizations, meals on wheels or other similar outreach programs to the homeless or elderly that have not stopped due to Covid-19. Since it’s summer, maybe you have extra time to accumulate a decent amount of hours before the fall semester begins. If you don’t have any clinical experience, I would prioritize that honestly. When are you taking the MCAT? Maybe it can work out with your schedule to work those 20hrs/wk while studying for the MCAT...but only if you have enough time to adequately prepare for it.
 
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curbsideconsult

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Feb 8, 2018
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I'm an older student (nearing 29) entering senior year of undergrad. I worked in a restaurant for several years while at a CC. Prior, I worked in a gym as a trainer. I did not volunteer or participate in extracurriculars in that time. I joined a lab this last school year but Covid19 shut it all down. I had barely been with them for a month.

So I'm trying to plan for the following school year. There are a few (paid) patient transport positions available in my area that require 20-24 hours/week. I was hoping for something around 10hrs but am having no luck. I see that clinical/patient experience is a priority and 20 hrs/wk would at least allow me to catch up in that regard...

But I'm also eager to get back into a lab in the fall, and I am interested in tutoring/TAing for Physiology in Winter (necessary to get to know LOR writers). Some say I need non-clinical volunteering and some say shadowing is necessary as the requirement is not met by the clinical work....And clubs are a last priority I understand but in light of recent times have considered sitting in on Black Student Union meetings. It's certainly a lot.

Is there an understanding that an older student might not have the same ECs/volunteering or are the expectations the same as they are for the typical applicant?

Would all of this that I've listed be too much to take on? I'm worried that doing a lot in the year before applying will look like it was just to mark off a checklist. But I knew before transferring here that I wanted research experience (this school is known for its research and this had me excited to attend). I know no other way to get close enough to professors here than to TA for them. I would love to tutor URM kids (as there aren't fellow brown skinned students in my classes now) or to volunteer in geriatrics (perhaps not possible with coronavirus).

Fortunately, my class load this last year won't need to be too heavy but I still want to ensure that my GPA is high. I'm presently studying for the MCAT so I'm afraid to take on too much these next three months... but I suppose I have no other choice but to apply for something right now...
  • Go for clinical volunteering gigs like hospice so you can get both clinical experience and volunteering hours done at the same time.
  • You need some shadowing in primary care, but not a whole lot. About 30-50 hours will do.
  • As mentioned above, it's not so much about the hours you do as the quality of your ECs and whether or not it fits the picture of who you are as an applicant.
 
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Ihave Nonamè

2+ Year Member
Dec 9, 2017
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Since it’s summer, maybe you have extra time to accumulate a decent amount of hours before the fall semester begins. If you don’t have any clinical experience, I would prioritize that honestly. When are you taking the MCAT? Maybe it can work out with your schedule to work those 20hrs/wk while studying for the MCAT...but only if you have enough time to adequately prepare for it.
I plan to take it at the end of September. I am enrolled in 6 quarter units for 5 weeks this summer as well.
 
Aug 21, 2019
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I checked all the boxes except research, and I’m a super nontrad (not super like awesome, super like really old with a bunch of kids compared to most nontrad). Here’s how I did it:

I volunteered with my church and my kids’ sports/school things for community volunteering. Through my church I organized a program to provide meals to the local homeless shelter through various church groups, and I served at least once a month. This was mostly phone work because I coordinated and planned, but I did serve in person occasionally. This counted as leadership also because I created and organized the program.

I volunteered with hospice 5 hours a week every Friday for two years. It adds up quickly, counts as volunteering and clinical experience. I also chaired a committee for fundraising for the organization, which was both leadership and mostly phone work, and non-clinical volunteering. I shadowed during the summer when I didn’t have classes.

Nontrads often need to carefully choose activities with a lot of impact for lesser hours, or build their hours over a longer time, but it can be done.
 

8YearsLate

Sub Canus lupus familiaris
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I am around your age. I went into the process not expecting any leeway. I have 300+ clinical volunteer hours, 300+ non-clinical shadowing hours, 100+ shadowing hours, and some unique experiences. I am also a single parent, usually work full-time but currently having to work 2 waitressing jobs. I STILL don't mention most of this on my apps because frankly, I want to be a strong applicant REGARDLESS of my situation, not in light of it.

I built up these hours over the course of years, but you'll still be able to do it over the course of this next year. I'm assuming you're applying for the 2022-2023 cycle? Focus on classes and MCAT for now. You're right that volunteers/shadows aren't exactly welcome right now in clinical settings. All my clinical-related commitments have been suspended until further notice.

Once things open up, find 1-2 good clinical commitments (perhaps the lab is one) that you can do 3-5 hours a week like someone else posted. You do NOT have to do 20+ hrs a week - that's a little extreme. Find a doc or 2 to shadow, and put in 20-30 hours with each. Skip the club, and the other social events for that matter. Your next year is going to be busy rounding out that app, and you'll make friends in the process. Lastly, you do not have to be a TA to get a LOR. Just a good student who builds a relationship with your professor without annoying them. You'd be surprised how far cordial interactions and actually participating in their class will go. Good luck!
 

Ihave Nonamè

2+ Year Member
Dec 9, 2017
90
37
I am around your age. I went into the process not expecting any leeway. I have 300+ clinical volunteer hours, 300+ non-clinical shadowing hours, 100+ shadowing hours, and some unique experiences. I am also a single parent, usually work full-time but currently having to work 2 waitressing jobs. I STILL don't mention most of this on my apps because frankly, I want to be a strong applicant REGARDLESS of my situation, not in light of it.

I built up these hours over the course of years, but you'll still be able to do it over the course of this next year. I'm assuming you're applying for the 2022-2023 cycle? Focus on classes and MCAT for now. You're right that volunteers/shadows aren't exactly welcome right now in clinical settings. All my clinical-related commitments have been suspended until further notice.

Once things open up, find 1-2 good clinical commitments (perhaps the lab is one) that you can do 3-5 hours a week like someone else posted. You do NOT have to do 20+ hrs a week - that's a little extreme. Find a doc or 2 to shadow, and put in 20-30 hours with each. Skip the club, and the other social events for that matter. Your next year is going to be busy rounding out that app, and you'll make friends in the process. Lastly, you do not have to be a TA to get a LOR. Just a good student who builds a relationship with your professor without annoying them. You'd be surprised how far cordial interactions and actually participating in their class will go. Good luck!
To have an equal application to that of the traditional student at my school, I would need to complete all of these that I have listed (with some of these hours nearing 1000)...

I'm at a public university where each lecture seats hundreds of students (even my last upper divs). Before online courses, I had pretty decent interactions with professors (keep in mind that this was with 10+ other students in the once-weekly office hours). I managed to get some of my professors to notice me and a couple actually complimented me. However, they never actually worked with me to the extent that they could comment on my character, my leadership, my work ethic, etc. Most never bothered to learn anyone's name. Now, with online courses and muted audio, it is an even greater challenge to get to know professors. The TAs meet with professors weekly in small groups, assist the professor, and suggest ideas. I think this is the only way to earn a LOR that is of the same quality and effort as those given out at small private colleges.
 
Aug 21, 2019
435
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Medical Student
To have an equal application to that of the traditional student at my school, I would need to complete all of these that I have listed (with some of these hours nearing 1000)...

I'm at a public university where each lecture seats hundreds of students (even my last upper divs). Before online courses, I had pretty decent interactions with professors (keep in mind that this was with 10+ other students in the once-weekly office hours). I managed to get some of my professors to notice me and a couple actually complimented me. However, they never actually worked with me to the extent that they could comment on my character, my leadership, my work ethic, etc. Most never bothered to learn anyone's name. Now, with online courses and muted audio, it is an even greater challenge to get to know professors. The TAs meet with professors weekly in small groups, assist the professor, and suggest ideas. I think this is the only way to earn a LOR that is of the same quality and effort as those given out at small private colleges.
In your case the TA position seems like a good idea. I went to a small public college and grad school, so my professors knew me really well. That’s a hard thing to do in a big school, and I agree with you about the online classes. I can’t imagine.
 

8YearsLate

Sub Canus lupus familiaris
2+ Year Member
Aug 28, 2017
77
24
Earth
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To have an equal application to that of the traditional student at my school, I would need to complete all of these that I have listed (with some of these hours nearing 1000)...

I'm at a public university where each lecture seats hundreds of students (even my last upper divs). Before online courses, I had pretty decent interactions with professors (keep in mind that this was with 10+ other students in the once-weekly office hours). I managed to get some of my professors to notice me and a couple actually complimented me. However, they never actually worked with me to the extent that they could comment on my character, my leadership, my work ethic, etc. Most never bothered to learn anyone's name. Now, with online courses and muted audio, it is an even greater challenge to get to know professors. The TAs meet with professors weekly in small groups, assist the professor, and suggest ideas. I think this is the only way to earn a LOR that is of the same quality and effort as those given out at small private colleges.
I went to one of the top 3 largest population schools in the country. I got 2 science LORs. In both cases I went to their office hours maybe once. My other LOR's were really strong. You're simply not going to get some raving review from a professor at a big college. They're going to copy/paste their "A student" speech and add a few tid-bits. Being a TA is not a good use of your time considering how much clinical experience you need to catch up on. Again, just my opinion. You'll have the whole year ahead of you to secure LORs.

Edit: Check this out: https://preview.redd.it/f6tkc64jusy...bp&s=140a939fdf8ced1955daeebd4b44326b93ca4ebc
 

Ihave Nonamè

2+ Year Member
Dec 9, 2017
90
37
I went to one of the top 3 largest population schools in the country. I got 2 science LORs. In both cases I went to their office hours maybe once. My other LOR's were really strong. You're simply not going to get some raving review from a professor at a big college. They're going to copy/paste their "A student" speech and add a few tid-bits. Being a TA is not a good use of your time considering how much clinical experience you need to catch up on. Again, just my opinion. You'll have the whole year ahead of you to secure LORs.

Edit: Check this out: https://preview.redd.it/f6tkc64jusy...bp&s=140a939fdf8ced1955daeebd4b44326b93ca4ebc
Thanks for the link! Clinical will absolutely be the priority and it appears that that will take up a majority of my free time. It's unfortunate they prioritize volunteer-clinical because I need to make money!

I will certainly try to add on some shadowing, though I know doctors may be less on board in recent times...Hopefully I can finish this requitement before TAing...

It is unfortunate that they don't include the relative importance of LoRs on this list...I would imagine they would have LoRs near the top. If I can have at least one professor that writes something thoughtful then it would make a world of difference.
 
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Meowidith_Grey

MD c/o 2024
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I know it’s not the same as being able to attend office hours and what not, but maybe you can try to email them more often to ask questions (clarification, elaboration, general info of interest, etc). Perhaps that way you can sort of build more of a relationship with them. I’m sorry this is difficult!
 
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8YearsLate

Sub Canus lupus familiaris
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Thanks for the link! Clinical will absolutely be the priority and it appears that that will take up a majority of my free time. It's unfortunate they prioritize volunteer-clinical because I need to make money!

I will certainly try to add on some shadowing, though I know doctors may be less on board in recent times...Hopefully I can finish this requitement before TAing...

It is unfortunate that they don't include the relative importance of LoRs on this list...I would imagine they would have LoRs near the top. If I can have at least one professor that writes something thoughtful then it would make a world of difference.
I know LOR's are definitely important, but it's very subjective. For example, if a school with heavy emphasis on primary care gets a really great LOR from a primary physician you shadowed, who writes 3-5 LORs annually, raving about your tangible performance with patients...

...that's going to hold more weight than say, a science teacher who writes 30-50 LORs annually and says, "Yeah, they got an A like 80 of my other students and passed out tests when I told them to. They really had that de Broglie wavelength formula down, very impressive."

Again, just my impression. I am not yet a medical student, so get a lot of feedback other than mine.
 

GreenDuck12

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Mar 30, 2014
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LORs are definitely important and should be taken seriously by each applicant. If you think about it, it is the only time an adcom will hear about the qualities and attributes of an applicant from a third party. That insight is valuable and carries some weight. That being said, they know applicants are going to ask professors who are likely to write positively about them. Most letters are good - they relay the applicants performance etc. Very few letters are excellent in that they provide significant details about the applicant, their performance, drives, motivations, etc as they have known the applicant over time. With every applicant submitting between 3 and 6 LORs it gets to be pretty uncommon when you encounter a really impactful recommendation. Most folks will apply with only good letters and that’s fine.
 
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